LOS ANGELES — The defending Western Conference champions took the ice Saturday as winners of seven of their past eight games against a last-place team that already has fired its coach this season.
It was difficult to tell which was which.
The cellar-dwelling Kings clearly were the better team in a 5-1 win over the Golden Knights in a matinee at Staples Center.
“I think they just played harder than us tonight,” said Knights forward Oscar Lindberg, whose first goal of the season in the first period was answered by five straight from the Kings.
Even the biggest strengths of the Knights proved no match for a Kings team still fueled by last season’s playoff ouster to Vegas in four games.
The Knights had gone seven games without allowing a power-play goal only to surrender the decisive goal when the Kings were on the man advantage with Brayden McNabb in the penalty box in the second period.
Former Knight Brendan Leipsic took a pass at the side of the net and put the puck on the stick of Matt Luff for the one-timer finish out front to break the streak and 1-1 tie at 12:30 of the second period.
Defenseman Nate Schmidt, who was on the ice for the play, wasn’t thrilled with his performance after recording a minus-3 rating.
“I was mad about my game,” said Schmidt, whose return from suspension helped spark the recent run. “My last two games haven’t been very good. I guess I’m hard on myself, but I expect a lot out of my game. That’s the reason it sucks.”
He wasn’t alone in his disappointment in losing the first matchup between the teams since the postseason.
“We got outworked pretty good,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “Los Angeles played a real good game and moved the puck real well. We weren’t even close to good enough.
“It looked like we were tired for some reason. I thought we had three or four back-to-back good shifts when we were down 4-1, but that was it all day. We just didn’t have any push, and LA took advantage of a team that looked disorganized.”
Added goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury: “I thought we played OK, then they got a little bit of a lucky bounce in the second and I just don’t feel we had the same kind of bounce as we’ve had lately.”
Fleury was referring to the Kings’ third goal when Jeff Carter started to take a puck behind the net that had taken an awkward bounce along the wall and instead banked it off Fleury and Schmidt and into the net.
“I got back to the bench and I was so mad, but at the same time, you can’t really do anything about it,” Schmidt said. “Sometimes those things just happen in a game. But at the same time, it was still 3-1, and we still had a chance to come back in the game if we would have played better.”
The Knights failed to capitalize on an early power play in the third period, and Derek Forbort extended the Kings’ lead to 4-1 with a shot from the point at 2:48 of the period that Fleury couldn’t see through traffic.
Schmidt said he thinks the recent victories might have been concealing some issues that proved fatal Saturday. He said the team hasn’t been playing with a sense of urgency and has been trying to do too much.
“We got away from our game a little bit,” he said. “We’ve done some things in the last 2½ games that aren’t us. We just have to be a little more simple with our game and understand what makes us successful.”
1. Hello, old friend. Saturday was the first time the Knights and Kings have met this season, but it was Vegas’ third matchup against former teammate Brendan Leipsic. The Kings claimed Leipsic off waivers from Vancouver last week, and the game was his third with Los Angeles. He assisted on the winning goal after scoring his first goal with the Kings on Thursday. Leipsic had two goals and 13 points for the Knights last season
2. Second line struggles. The Knights’ second line of Cody Eakin, Alex Tuch and Max Pacioretty has been dangerous in the past several weeks, as they’ve become more comfortable with one another. But they were quiet Saturday, combining for three shots on goal, all by Tuch. All three recorded a minus-1 rating.
3. Lacking punch. Not even the power-play unit was immune from the listless performance. After recording a goal on the man advantage in eight of the past 10 games, the Knights went 0-for-4.
Adam Hill Review-Journal